Panama, officially called the Republic of Panama, is the southernmost country in Central America, bordered by Costa Rica to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Nearly 500 rivers lace Panama's rugged landscape. Mostly unnavigable, many originate as swift highland streams, meander in valleys, and form coastal deltas. The capital and largest city is Panama City, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half of the country's 4 million people. It is the only capital city in the world that has a rainforest within its city limits. The official language of Panama is Spanish, but English is widely spoken. Panama was the first Latin American country to adopt the U.S. dollar as its official currency.
Panama was inhabited by several indigenous tribes prior to settlement by the Spanish in the 16th century. Panama broke away from Spain in 1821 and joined a union of Nueva Granada, Ecuador, and Venezuela named the Republic of Gran Colombia. When Gran Colombia dissolved in 1831, Panama and Nueva Granada remained joined, eventually becoming the Republic of Colombia. With the backing of the United States, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903, allowing the Panama Canal to be built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. In 1977 an agreement was signed for the transfer of the Canal from the United States to Panama by the end of the 20th century, which culminated on December 31, 1999. Revenue from canal tolls continues to represent a significant portion of Panama's gross domestic product, although commerce, banking, and tourism are major and growing sectors.
The culture of Panama derives from European music, art and traditions brought by the Spanish, creating a blend of African and Native American culture with European culture. Dance is typical of the diverse cultures in Panama. The local folklore can be experienced at a multitude of festivals, through dances and traditions handed down from generation to generation. Local cities host live jazz, blues, salsa, reggae, and rock music performances. The U.S. influence in Panama can be seen in the country's sports. Baseball is Panama's national sport and the country has regional teams and a national team that represents it in international events. At least 140 Panamanian players have played professional baseball in the United States, more than any other Central American country.
In tropical Panama, with its two long coasts, you can scuba dive with whale sharks in the Pacific, snorkel rainbow reefs, or surf world-class waves. Nature is all about discovery, with ruins of Spanish forts, ziplines through rainforest canopies, swimming with sea turtles, or trekking to cloud-forest vistas. Panama is home to 10,000 different plants species, including 1,400 varieties of orchids, 678 ferns, and more than 1,500 varieties of trees. Panama contains the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic…from the same spot! At the country’s narrowest point, only 80 kilometers separates the Atlantic from the Pacific Ocean.